Tuesday, May 20, 2008
On name recognition alone, the Minnesota Twins have one of the more impressive and young middle-of-the-order trios in all of baseball.
Between them, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Delmon Young are the kind of high-profile talents that most teams would love to build their lineups around for the foreseeable future.
However there is one glaring issue that hangs over their heads like a long Minnesota winter. And that is a near total lack of power.
We'll excuse Morneau from this discussion as he's proven he can provide the pop necessary to drive in runs and drive the ball over the fence. But for Mauer and Young the outlook is not quite as bright.
Both were number one overall picks in their respective draft classes (2001 and 2003) and both have "projectable" power in their bats. At least that's what scouts will tell you and what Twins fans hope is true.
However a look at their track records point to something entirely different and startlingly familiar if you've followed the Twins so far in 2008.
We'll start with Mauer, or Baby Jesus as we like to call him. Ever since eschewing a chance to play football at Florida State, Mauer has been the darling of his home state organization. A big time athlete at the game's premium position, Mauer was said to have all the tools to do for catchers what Cal Ripken Jr. did for shortstops.
Always able to put the bat on the ball and possessing a sweet lefty stroke, most observers of a young Mauer believed that like most young top-prospect position players, the power would come soon enough.
Three seasons in the minor leagues and a career minor league batting average of over .330 later, it was time to unleash Mauer on the American League. And while he has certainly established himself as one of the very best backstops in baseball, the one thing that has yet to surface is the power.
But should that be such a huge surprise?
In 1,055 minor league at-bats Mauer managed a measly nine home runs, that's one every 117 at-bats. So far in his big league career he's got 35 homers in 1,664 at-bats, or one every 47.5 at-bats.
While it's true that his big league numbers are certainly an improvement, by comparison the AL's other top catcher, Victor Martinez of Cleveland, has hit a home run once ever 29 at-bats in his big league career (curiously he has also yet to homer in 2008).
This is not to say Mauer will never find his power stroke, but it looks more and more likely every day that the guy once thought of as a rare four-tool catcher may really be more of a three-tool guy with light hitting, middle-infielder power at best.
As for Young, his lack of power is a bit more of a surprise and disappointment given his early minor league success in the home run department.
In 1,413 minor league at-bats Young swatted 59 homers, or one every 24 at-bats. It was that type of raw ability that had always attracted scouts to Young and what ultimately made him a top draft choice.
Like Mauer, Young was also a very good contact hitter in the minors, finishing his career in baseball's lower levels as a .318 hitter. Sure he struck out nearly three times as much as he drew a walk, but with his power potential it was something teams could live with.
Ever since breaking into the major leagues however Young has seen his power almost completely disappear while his strikeout to walk ratio has spiked to nearly 5-to-1.
In his defense, 940 career big league at-bats does not a career make, but even the most optimistic Twins fan has to be concerned that Young is hitting one home run every 59 at-bats in his big league career so far, 20 at-bats more than it takes noted power hitting shortstop Alex Gonzalez of the Reds to hit one.
One of two things is going to happen with Young in my opinion. Either he's going to recognize that maybe the power really isn't there and settle into a Mauer-like groove of .300-plus batting average campaigns because he has the ability to do that if he learns a bit more patience.
Or he is going to have to sell out a la Adam Dunn in an effort to hit the ball over the fence which could only exasperate his already terrible strikeout to walk ratio.
The caveat to this entire discussion however is the age of both Mauer and Young. Mauer just recently turned 25 and Young is only 22, which means a boost in power could still be in the offing for both. However a lot is going to have to change for each if they expect to fulfill their power potential.
Friday, May 16, 2008
It was announced today that San Francisco Giants managing partner Peter Magowan would be stepping down effective at the end of the 2008 season, just a year after the single most important player acquisition in the team's history (Barry Bonds) became baseball's all-time home run king.
Some believe that Magowan's inclusion in the now infamous Mitchell Report precipitated this move and that he was more or less forced out by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig in order to avoid sanctions against the Giants.
Whatever the reason for his departure, as a fan of the Giants I simply would like to thank Mr. Magowan for all that he did in returning my favorite team to prominence and respectability.
People forget that before the 1993 season the Giants were dangerously close to being moved to Florida by then owner Bob Lurie. Magowan however stepped in and purchased the team along with an investment group and the course of team history was changed.
Bonds was signed shortly thereafter and a team that was by all rights dead in the water surged to 103 wins and to the brink of a playoff berth.
The next 10 seasons would see the Giants win more regular season games than any team other than the Braves and Yankees, as well as a World Series appearance in 2002.
Perhaps Magowan's biggest contribution to the Giants and the city of San Francisco however was the move to have what is now AT&T Park built and ensure that the team would remain in the city by the bay for a very long time.
Many people outside of San Francisco don't know this, but that gorgeous ballpark was built entirely with private funding. So while cities across the country pined for new ballparks and looked to public funding to make their dreams a reality, Magowan was able to make the seemingly impossible happen.
It was Magowan's willingness to do what it took financially as well as stay out of baseball operations for the most part that made him a success with the Giants.
Not everything has gone right for Magowan since he took over the team in 1993, but for my money there are very few owners out there who could have done a better job.
Monday, May 12, 2008
You name it, he's tried it.
Long putters, short putters, mallet putters, blade putters. Sergio Garcia has been the Dr. Seuss of putters and putting styles over the last several years as it became painfully clear that if he ever wanted to win a big tournament he had to figure out a way to put the ball in the hole.
So as the final round of The Player's Championship unfolded, it seemed only a matter of time before the flat stick let him down again in a crucial moment.
However it was that seemingly inescapable reality that made Garcia's playoff-forcing putt on the 18th green just that much sweeter for those of us who have long hoped for him to realize his immense potential.
Once that putt dropped and tournament leader Paul Goydos bogeyed 18, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that this would finally be Sergio's time. And indeed it was as Garcia stuffed his tee shot on the first playoff hole and walked away with his biggest win to date.
Since he burst onto the scene at the 1999 PGA Championship, the golfing world has waited for the Spanish sensation to finally break through and take his place among the best golfers in the world. But until now it seemed like all that potential would be wasted thanks to his inability to make a putt under pressure.
Interestingly, Garcia's greatest triumphs prior to Sunday came at possibly the most pressure packed of tournaments, the Ryder Cup. It was in those moments where the exuberance of his game has been able to shine through as he has performed with the feel and energy that made him a star.
That's what we love about Sergio, the energy. OK, so his Adam Scott-type eye candy galleries are nice too, but when it comes to what happens inside the ropes you can't help but be drawn to his game.
So when it was reported the Garcia had gone back to the putter he used as a teenager it seemed only fitting that he would be able to lift his game to the heights that so many had seen on his horizon.
Perhaps no one in the world hits it better tee-to-green than Garcia (apologies to Tiger), and those skills were on full display at this past weekend as he led the field in fairways and greens hit, including a stunning third round performance in which he hit every single fairway on the TPC of Sawgrass' treacherous layout.
Detractors will point to the absence of Woods as a major factor in Garcia's ability to win The Player's Championship, and Garcia himself thanked the world's best player for not being there. But what I saw on Sunday was the young Sergio, the confident Sergio who can play with anyone in the world, including Woods.
With most of golf's biggest stars going dim in the presence of Woods time and time again, one can only hope that quite possibly the most talented of the bunch may have finally found himself just in time to make a run at number one.
Watch out Tiger, Sergio is back.